Water utilities along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New Jersey continue monitoring a Friday night chemical spill in a river tributary northeast of Philadelphia.
The utilities say there’s no risk to people so far from the latex polymer release, and none of the contaminant has been detected in city water supplies.
Utilities are tracking a plume of contamination in the river, and updates are expected later today in Bucks County and the city of Philadelphia.
In Philly, the city said its water should be safe through at least 11:59 p.m. tonight, based on the time it takes water from the Delaware River to move through its system.
The water currently available to customers has been treated and tested to confirm that it is “safe to drink and use for bathing, cooking, and washing,” the city said in a news release Monday morning.
Elsewhere, Pennsylvania American Water said it had determined there was no impact to its Yardley water treatment plant 15 miles upstream from the spill. “We will continue to monitor the source water and provide updates if we receive additional information,” the water company said.
What happened in Pennsylvania?
An estimated 8,100 gallons of a 50/50 mix of water and a latex polymer solution was released Friday evening when a pipe failed at a Trinseo Altuglas acrylic resins manufacturing facility. The plant is in Bristol, roughly 17 miles northeast of Philadelphia.
The material overflowed a containment system and entered a storm drain, where it flowed into Otter Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River in Bucks County, plant owner Trinseo said in a news release.
The company and Bucks County, Pennsylvania said the latex mixture is non-toxic to humans. Trinseo said the mixture is a white liquid that’s visible in surface water.
Why are people buying water in Philadelphia?
Earlier on Sunday, Philadelphia’s water department said residents who receive water from the city’s Baxter drinking water treatment plant might want to use bottled water “out of an abundance of caution. However by Sunday afternoon, the city told residents there was “no need to buy water.”
“Customers can fill bottles or pitchers with tap water with no risk at this time,” the city said.
The department said it was confident water from its Baxter facility would be safe to drink and to cook with through at least 11:59 p.m. Monday. That was based on the time it takes water from the Delaware entering the utility’s Baxter intakes to move through the treatment system.
No contaminants had been found through Monday, city officials said.
What’s the latest update with Philadelphia water?
At 11 a.m. Monday, the Philadelphia Water Department said the spill could potentially affect water treated at its Baxter Water Treatment Plant, which draws water from the Delaware River and services part of Philadelphia.
Residents who want to make sure they have water available can fill bottles or pitchers with tap water with no risk at this time, the city said.
The tidally influenced Delaware will flush itself out, especially given the influx of rain that fell Saturday, city officials said, but they planned to continue testing the water from the river throughout the day on Monday and into Tuesday to be certain.
Where does Philadelphia get its tap water?
The Philadelphia Water Department uses water from the Delaware and the Schuylkill River, pumping it to a reservoir or basin where sediments settle out. Chlorine is added to kill pathogens, and then the water is pulled through filters and treated for drinking.
The city is using a computer model to track the movement of the plume of contaminant through the river.
Two additional Philadelphia water treatment plants draw water from the Schuylkill River and have not been impacted by the spill, the city said.
Residents can find out if their area is affected here: Spill map
Is the water safe to drink in south New Jersey?
New Jersey American Water said its water is safe to drink. Delaware River water provided to customers in South Jersey was “not impacted” by the spill, the utility said.
However, the utility did ask customers in three counties – Burlington, Camden and Gloucester – to limit non-essential water use to reduce demand at its facility in Delran, where water is pulled from the Delaware River.
Environmental group responds
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental advocacy group, suggested Monday that people in the region monitor and report smells or any impacts to fish and wildlife.
“The public is worried and has a right and need to know what is going on when there is a hazardous release,” said Maya van Rossum, the network’s leader. The network chided state and federal agencies for not releasing more timely live reports or issuing emergency notifications to residents.
“It is always a concern when there is a spill of chemicals or hazardous materials to our River system,” van Rossum said. “Once a chemical is released, the flow of the water, including the tidal effects of the estuary reach of the river, can carry the impacts significant distances.”
Contributing: John Bacon and Thao Nguyen with USA TODAY and Jim Walsh of the Cherry Hill Courier-Post